The sexy Latina stereotype is old news. Latina spitfires have been around since the early days of film and have continued to this day. Last week, Jezebel guest contributor Tanisha Love Ramirez wrote about a casting call on RealityWanted.com, which requested “hot-blooded, passionate, attractive, Latina moms that have effectively raised successful children through real life, old-school Latin traditions.”
Offensive? Yes. Surprising? Not at all.
I found it troubling that this highly insulting casting call didn’t get me up in arms. The stereotype has become so common in both television and mainstream film, the only reaction I could muster was a combination of a chuckle and a sigh.
The casting call goes into further detail about the kind of Latina they’re looking for: “Real Latina Moms who are as big and brash and full of confidence in their parenting style! Should have at least on [sic] kid in his/her 20′s” and should “stand behind their parenting style 100%, and who will stand up and show us how it’s done.” Sometimes these stereotypes are so outrageous that we have to laugh to keep from crying. This entertainment company managed to cram almost all Latina stereotypes into one description. Why?
Latin Stereotypes: How to Cope, with Laughter, Bill Nericcio, director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences program at San Diego State University, explains why we laugh at stereotypes. “Much of what we laugh at comes from either a sense of identification or a total sense of derision or superiority. You cannot really tell a story without a stereotype. They are always funny. We laugh because we recognize the image and usually because we are somehow better than what we are laughing at.” I laughed at the stereotype because of its sheer absurdity.
Though stereotypes can be destructive, they aren’t necessarily detrimental in themselves. As psychology research would tell us, they can be positive or negative and allow us to make predictions. Sometimes they’re almost inevitable and are unlikely to ever disappear. They are, without a doubt, ingrained in our culture and our psyches. However, the problem with a new show about hot-blooded and sexy Latina moms, for instance, is that it’s the only version of Latinas we ever see. If there were shows or movies about dynamic and nuanced Latinas in addition to this silly reality show, this wouldn’t be a problem. (Who doesn’t like watch trashy TV sometimes?) Sofia Vergara, one of the most successful Latina actresses right now, fulfills plenty of Latina stereotypes, and is also a highly talented woman who deserves the acclaim she’s received. However, is it too much to ask to see another kind of Latina succeed?
Latinos currently make up 16.7 percent of the population of the United States, though you would never know that by flipping through your TV. In 2010, The National Latino Media Council (NLMC) held a press conference to release the annual Television Network Report Cards, which showed there was a “striking decline in Latino diversity” at the four major television networks — ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. Why was there a decline when our population is rapidly increasing?
And if Latinos are lucky enough to be on TV, they are almost exclusively stereotypes. The only show I can think of with a smart and strong Latina lead is “Ugly Betty,” which was canceled almost three years ago. One of the newest shows to star Latinas, “Devious Maids,” is a drama about four Latina maids in Beverly Hills. It has been officially acquired by the Lifetime channel and will be airing this year. In response to the inevitable criticism, Eva Longoria told HuffPost that the show is “a reality so why not tell their story and their point of view … I think people really need to look at the paradigm of television and go, ‘This is a very powerful medium for Latinos to have a voice. Let’s support it so that they will make more of these.'”
Sure, it’s true that many Latinas are working class, but it’s also true that young Latinas are becoming more educated than ever. I’ve met plenty of Latina maids and even hot and fiery moms, but I’ve also known plenty of Latina college graduates and professionals. Why not choose to tell their stories?
While I watch the Golden Globes, I look for Latinas and other women of color in the crowd. I only see a sad sprinkle. So many women are making huge strides in the entertainment industry; they are winning award after award for playing complex and fascinating characters. And as I watch them, I keep thinking, “hey, what about us? When will it be our turn?”
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She is currently the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas and a contributor for The Huffington Post and other publications. Her poetry has appeared in Pleiades, Witness, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and many others. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com